“We are taught from a young age not to see Palestinians, because to see Palestinians would only complicate our lives.” Yahav, our guide from the Israeli Coalition Against House Demolitions (www.icahd.org), said this to us on the first day of a recent delegation to Palestine-Israel with the Interfaith Peace Builders.
With Yahav, we took a tour of settlements in East Jerusalem and heard about the plans in place for future expansion. The most striking part of this trip was our visit to Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement in the Occupied West Bank of Palestine. Ma’ale Adumim is the largest settlement bloc in the Territories. It is 30 square miles and home to at least 40,000 Israeli settlers. Ma’ale Adumim was established illegally in 1975 by 23 Israeli families on a hilltop. It would be virtually impossible to remove this settlement. As stated, it is 30 square miles; in comparison, the city of Manhattan is 33.77 square miles when you combine the areas of land and water. Ma’ale Adumim has its own college, two large-scale shopping malls (complete with Ace Hardware and Office Depot), a library, medical center, sports center, four swimming pools and an array of beautiful palm trees and landscaping. This is not a settlement outpost; it is a settlement, a city unto itself. It is one of only four settlements in the West Bank classified by Israel as a “city.”
Settlers began building settlement outposts in the early 1990s in an effort to expand Jewish presence on territory the Palestinians claim for part of a future state. These settlers had no government sanction, but former Cabinet ministers, settler leaders and lawmakers have all confirmed the squatter camps went up with the full knowledge of the state. Many of these outposts are small, flimsy encampments, but others are permanent structures built near government-sanctioned settlements, in effect extending their reach.
There are about 100 illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, which Israel is required to dismantle under the internationally backed “roadmap” peace plan.
According to both Israeli and Palestinian NGO’s, since 1967, Israel has established at least 214 settlements in the West Bank. As of May 2002, over 400,000 Israelis live beyond the “Green Line:” 200,000 in the West Bank, and other 200,000 in East Jerusalem. These settlements criss-cross the West Bank and are generally off-limits to Palestinians.
Ma’ale Adumim is illegal under both International and Israeli law and is in violation of article 49 under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The article clearly states that Israel is prohibited from establishing settlements: “The Occupying Power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.”
Further, the problem with Ma’ale Adumim is that it is situated in such a way that it literally cuts the West Bank in half. Clearly, this settlement has great political significance. It is part of a larger plan which has two parts: The Ring Road and the E-1 plan. E-1 is short for “East 1,” the administrative name given to the stretch of land northeast of Jerusalem, to the west of the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Israel has long sought to expand Ma’ale Adumim westward to incorporate the so-called E-1 area of land that would link it to Jerusalem, but has frozen this project in the face of U.S. pressure.
When our guide, Yahav, was asked why Israel would respond to pressure with regards to E-1 and not to President Obama’s insistence on halting all settlement activity, his answer was, “Even for Israel, this violation would be too blatant.” Construction of E-1 would jeopardize the hopes for a two-state solution. The E-1 plan would, by design, block off the narrow undeveloped land corridor which runs east of Jerusalem and which is necessary for any meaningful future connection between the southern and the northern parts of the West Bank. The plan involves about 12 KM of land, a significant part of which is privately owned by Palestinians. Most of the area was declared “State Land” by Israel in the 1980s (land that is not owned by any individual and is thus the property of the State). Completion of E-1 would thus break the West Bank into two parts— north and south. It would also sever access to East Jerusalem for Palestinians in the West Bank, and sever access to the West Bank for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. Both of these situations are antithetical to the achievement of any real, durable peace agreement and the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state.
As for the Ring Road, Israel plans to construct a road within East Jerusalem, again on confiscated Palestinian land. The road will seal off the main access road from the town of Sur Bahir to Jerusalem, isolate the town of Um Laysoun, and require demolition of numerous Palestinian homes, among other injustices. The Eastern Ring Road is intended to facilitate Israeli access to settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, linking them directly to each other and to West Jerusalem.
While President Obama views the removal of the settlement outposts and the freezing of all settlement activity as vital to the peace process, he does not go far enough. In order for a viable two-state solution to exist, all future settlement activity must cease now and a discussion about what will happen to the large settlement blocs inside the West Bank is crucial.
For President Obama to gain the backing of the U.S. Congress and citizens of America to push this issue, it is incumbent upon Mr. Obama to paint a realistic picture of what a settlement outpost is, what a settlement is and what the settlement blocs are. Ma’Ale Adumim is not something Israel is going to easily give up. While settlement outposts may be on the chopping block, the dismantling of strictly these is in no way, a road map to peace. It is the large settlement blocs, such as Ma’Ale Admuim that need to be discussed in order for the United States to be an honest broker for peace.
The E-1 plan, along with Netanyahu’s resistance to curtailing natural growth will make it impossible to reach an agreement on the question of permanent borders and will grab the last area of open land available for Palestinian development and a two state solution. As Yahav stated towards the end of our tour, “The framework of this occupation is what is important; the occupation is not for security, it is a land grab and the heart of the matter is control of the land, the people and the resources.”
Tracie De Angelis Salim is a Berkeley resident.